The Unveiling

Perhaps we moderns no longer see ourselves as living under the influence of myths or belief systems. Whatever their source, they no longer serve us because any belief we subscribe to does not necessarily come to us through the culture of our familiars. More than any other period in history, we have become fractionalized as our awareness of the big menu of ideas, belief systems and cultures increases. Even the beliefs we first experience through the childhood lens of family and small communities of fellow believers are contaminated, if not corrupted, as we venture forth into adulthood where we discover a bigger world of competing beliefs.

Perhaps the act of choosing our beliefs rather than adopting what is handed down to us causes some of us to lose the inclination to sign up for any structured system of beliefs, especially as it has become increasingly evident that all communities are susceptible to the failings of their all-too-human members. Modern communication tells all and every belief system is at risk now of being de-mythologized. Even in looking for something to believe in, we find the only way to sustain our true-believer status comes at the price of excluding other beliefs, even of people who we love and respect as rational beings like ourselves.

File:The Caxton Celebration - William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and his Queen.jpgOr, maybe we can no longer “believe,” because our exposure to competing beliefs leaves us with the belief (ironically) that any belief system is man-made, constructed, and so we come to acknowledge the fantastical nature of all sets of ideas which drives us to conclude that the only viable search for truth left for us moderns is one we have come to call reality. Secular, if not down right atheist, we will not be fooled again, or so we believe.

In pondering this idea of reality, I have wondered why we moderns seem to be so much under its spell. What do we mean when we make reference to reality, declaring something to be real (or not), and how is it that this modern usage came into being? What new shift in our experience does it reflect?

Reality as a belief, perhaps brings us to the ultimate supposition that there is one true background to all that exists, and paradoxically seems to show us that we live amid a multiplicity of perspectives, but at the same time insist, either that one of them is true, or perhaps something grander, that an as yet to be known truth does in fact exist. This now makes sense to me – to see our notion of reality as that which refers to the Whole, a sense that there is an undivided nature of all that was, is and will be.

File:Motorway (7858495690).jpgHow did we get here, to this point where we now experience ourselves as separated parts that make up a whole? We might agree that what has changed is our ability to both relocate and communicate at the speed of light and to any geographical distance, either physically or virtually, through the technology of travel and telecommunications. We no longer live in small localized communities that stay together generation upon generation, because we are not as confined and limited as were previous generations. We now have the means to move, in varying degrees, through both physical travel and the use of the internet to anywhere around the globe. As both the speed and frequency in which we move increases, perhaps so does our sense of separation from others and from the past. Especially in Western cultures, our independence reinforces the notion that we are separate, forging our own paths and no longer bound to a collective set of beliefs or the past.

Recently, I have been entertaining that notion that in order to restore the feeling of belonging and caring more for each other and for earth our home, we need a new myth. Some of us can see that it is a common mythology that holds a culture together. Only in our modern, historical, non-mythological culture could we think it possible that if we could just find the right myth all will be well – returning us to a paradise we imagine was once there.  Our de-mythologized state may be what allows us to entertain a notion like that but as well curses us with a mythology that says there is no myth, only reality! That is our myth, that there is a reality, even if we don’t feel ourselves to belong to it. Totally unreal! 🙂

File:Ottheinrich Folio296r Rev13.jpgWhat is it then that we need? Perhaps the historical perspective needs its grand finale, transforming us out of its myth of progress, and at last freeing us from the sins of the fathers.

I would guess, that the more we try to power our way out of the current global storm, the stormier it will get. If something must die, and it’s not a literal dying, what is it?

Maybe all that is left is to see is that there will never be an escape from myth. We are myth makers, and whether we call it reality, fantasy, science or religion, we are bound and contained, limited ultimately by our sense of who we are. The more we try to and need to define ourselves, the more caught we’ll be. If we are not who we think we are, then who are we?

39 thoughts on “The Unveiling

    • Hi Malcolm,
      Thank you for reading my blog and especially for leaving a note.

      “Atheist though I am, I see our modern myth as being the humanist vision of man’s redemption through technology”

      I agree, we do place a lot of hope and energy on technology and it’s ability to solve problems and even to eliminate suffering.

      Debra

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  1. Debra,

    Really fascinating topic and post. I feel as though I could respond for days. I should have taken notes as I read it as all sorts of thoughts were lured to the surface.

    Regarding the loss of the old myths, it strikes me that they couldn’t quite make sense of one another when our world shrank. How does one participate in a sun dance and a quantum physics colloquium in the same week? They don’t quite stack up. How does one culture’s God relate to another’s?

    But I think there is a very real danger here- of discounting what is distinct rather than admitting for a multiplicity of validities. What we find in particle accelerators is somehow “real”. What cultures thousands of year old experience in ceremony is every bit as valid. We have done far too much discounting, and too little multiplying. Your question about whether we end up with debasing all myth as being nothing but man made fantasies is an important one. Those who would take this approach, and offer us a “reality” in lieu of myth, have far too shallow a notion of reality to stitch the old myths together and reveal the beauty of the entire tapestry. Their version of a “reality” is one that leads straight to the grave. It is empty and powerless.

    In science, old theories are typically subsumed by a new one, meaning the new theory has to explain all the things the old one did, plus the latest observations that threw the previous theory into question. Why should it be different with myth?

    Myth is a hard word for me to swallow sometimes, just because I personally equate it with something made up. I may be a victim of the process you describe. But I have seen power in many guises, offered to people of any culture. I wouldn’t call any of those offerings myths in the way I understand the word. (As I said, I think you mean it differently.) Not where I have seen or felt living power touch the world of man. There was nothing imaginary about it… I think, if you will pardon my vocabulary restrictions, we are moving beyond myths that are limited, or apply meaningfully to but one subset of humanity, but I think a substitute “reality” simply will not do. We are going to have to find a foothold within Reality to continue meaningfully in my opinion.

    The paradox of this is that this Reality will not require any particular name or dogma, no shape or custom. I think this Reality is the final myth you write about, because it will not be a Reality we can pin down, to Don’s point. It is a mystery, a Reality, and a myth all at once…

    Michael

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    • You have given me a lot to think about Michael!

      How easy it is for me to take words for granted. Yes, I do not mean by myth, a falsehood. Let me try to broaden the meaning here.

      Myths are the ways and means that cultures understand the world, and we all live within a mythology. The language we use, the god(s) we worship, the stories we tell weave a myth for those who share in common. The word is related to mouth or speech.

      Our modern myth is Reality, as much as some might not want to hear that. But the way we use that word, and filter our world through the idea that there is a reality, very much is the same as any pre-modern culture would use a story to understand their world.

      Our use of the idea of a Reality points to a recognition that behind the veil of all cultures and all time there is a wholeness, and also a desire to leave all myths, as untruths, made up stories, behind.

      But, yes we’re missing the point when we think we can so easily access a Reality not filtered by our understanding and inherent limits of being within the whole, not outside of it. Science, with its aim of objectivity, has created the idea that we can and must know Reality and leave behind those silly myths.

      I agree, by cross-cultural contamination, we are given a gift that perhaps has never before been available; to see and hear the myths of so many cultures and to gleen from them the gifts that other cultures have received from their perspective, can and perhaps will open our eyes to the myths that we (Western culture) are in.

      For our time, it’s as if the gods have shaken up the snow-globe of our world and all systems of belief are blanketing our world. You’re right, it is beautiful and will lessen our need and inclination towards dogma and widen the opening to mystery.

      We live in amazing times, yes?

      Debra

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      • Yes. Amazing times. I am reminded of an analogy. Once I visited with the physicist Mendel Sachs, who passed away a year or two ago. He spent much of his career researching implications of the theory of relativity, and while I wish I could, I cannot say much more than that and do it any justice.

        Anyway, he told me that Einstein hadn’t quite extended Relativity as far as he might have, for the reason that he had one foot rooted in the past. We might say one foot still in past Myth. There were symmetries he thought were beautiful, that he didn’t want to be without, but this restricted his mathematical and conceptual freedom, and so he was never able to join Relativity to quantum theory.

        Mendel felt in his research program, that if this other foot were taken out of the past, and some additional symmetries broken, that the rift between relativity and quantum theory could be healed.

        This analogy comes to mind because in these times, I think we have to dare to leave the old myths behind as we invent a “new myth” of the type you describe. Not that they were wrong. But maybe they weren’t complete. I’m okay with the modern myth of there being a “reality”, but only if it’s big enough to permit quantum entanglement, walking on water, and a world that is at once malleable and profoundly consistent. To get there, we may have to let go of something old, or dare to believe we belong to a time when such new myth is meaningful.

        Michael

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  2. Debra,
    Thanks for the insight. The problem I am in the world having is the increasing diagnosis of mental health issues and the ease with which we medicate. I read a Huxley quote where he said that the last revolution will be the pharmacy companies getting all of us taking medications.
    I agree that there needs as Hillman says “vessels to express our pathology.”
    I also agree that the world will go on in its own way, whether I do anything about the reality of those who suffer or not .
    But I have this little tiny voice inside of me that says,” We can do something about it!”
    In this moment I am not sure that is a wishful little boy, trying to reconcile then and now.
    Love your writings as always and your support.
    Love
    Jim

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    • Hi Jim,
      Well said…
      There are times when the world and its problems seem to be spiraling into a death wish. That makes me understand why so many people are troubled enough to personally want to die – they are perhaps mirroring a sick world.

      Bu like you, I have just enough suffering to have a passion for healing, mine as well as others.

      I, too, agree that medicating is not the answer, or at least not the only answer. What did the ancients do? What do us moderns do, those who have found other ways to belong and live with the struggle of our current world?

      I think suffering has to have meaning for each individual and until that happens it’s hard to make your peace with yourself and others. I am happy that you do see the potential for doing something about it and as you have said, we take baby steps. It is hard to see the bigger picture of our lives in this place at this time, but I try to remind myself that that was just as true for Hillman, Gutenberg, or Abraham Lincoln.

      Thank for sharing your insights here!
      Love,
      Debra

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  3. Debra,
    This discussion very much mirrors a tangent we went on in literature class a few days ago. I talked of Joseph Campbell, but would have liked to have been able to draw up the wonderful JC quotes that John brought to your table. Joseph Campbell, while laminating our lack of modern mythos, also said, “When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree. The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives.” When in literature class, I take my few minutes that I have of talking to others to try to steer us deeply into what we share in this human journey – and we foray together through the art of storytelling to find meaning. Most days, they inform me, and humor me into thinking I’m informing them 🙂
    so so love the deep dives you take, carrying us along for the ride.
    xo! marga

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    • Hi Marga,
      Love the Campbell quote and so agree, the world we know has always been a mess. In some ways, we live in the best times ever. It’s easy to get caught up in doom and gloom, especially when it sometimes seems that we are pushing ourselves toward the ultimate Suicide, as if somehow we have to know we have enough power to end the show.

      In the bigger view, none of our false identities may matter, if the Source of our being is bigger than any of the parts.

      But still, who doesn’t want peace, who can be on the side of total planetary annihilation?

      So, with that thought, yes, the picture comes down to size and I still have so much to learn to adequately love my family friends.

      I love your deep dives as well Marga and am grateful for your insights here and from reading your posts.
      xxx
      Debra

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  4. I am at the moment experiencing the moving target… what I think I know and can count on keeps shifting!

    My husband often talks about holding belief as if it were a feather in our hand instead of a firm rock that we stand upon. It is an interesting exercise to free the mind into the what ifs that appear and potentials that pop when we question our beliefs and consider that things could be different. Can be a bit disconcerting to fling ones mental craft over the edge of a cliff which has the appearance of an abyss. The physical container often will complain at that level of allowing freedom. However, it has been my experience that each time I do, the layers of myth peal back allowing a look a bit deeper. Everything gets a bit clearer in it’s fuzziness and my mind/body finds a quicker peace with the discomfort of not being sure of anything. (I say this as there has been no need for extended stays in a padded room, yet 🙂 )

    I just observe and observe and work not to jump to assign meaning to make sense of the observation and as I do, a deeper voice that is not just mine, but bigger than me starts a little chuckle at the baby steps in courage at meeting the unknowing. I feel I am getting more and more into glimpses around the edges of what knowing can be.

    EXCELLENT POST… oh the stories we tell ourselves to live. 🙂

    -x.M

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    • I am right with you M.

      Perhaps the only way to know a belief deeply enough to let it go is to hold on to it for awhile. I think I see that to be a pattern in my life.

      I do worry from time to time, about the possibility of letting go too quickly. Why don’t some things stick?

      At the deeper level of my heart, perhaps I’ve always had this unbearable longing to find a small piece of agreement embedded within each idea and belief, so we can all talk to each other as you and I and others here do.

      And, too, I believe these searches for common ground might be part of what we need for healing our wounds and bringing about a more peaceful world. Even if that’s not what happens, I can’t help but to keep exploring.

      Thank you!
      xxx
      D

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  5. Debra, I always like to think of the horizon as an analogy of reality. We can see just so far but not beyond it. We see in part. When we get to where we think the horizon is, another is before us. There is always more. Reality is always something beyond our grasp. This also applies to us. We are always a mystery to ourselves. It’s this very beyondness and mystery that makes us myth-makers, which I believe we’ll always be. The myths will change, but myth-makers we’ll remain. For that reason I don’t take easily to talk of demythologization.

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    • Hi Don,
      Very beautifully stated! You capture the sense of motion that is inherent in life in a way that makes sense to me.

      I hope I did not offend you by speaking of demythologizing.

      I agree very much that we remain myth makers. Some people seem inclined to want to deny the imaginal way that we perceive. I hear some people say that they “stick to the facts,” but I very much see them believing in a myth called reality.

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  6. Debra,
    Thanks for your fearless writing. It seems at times that human beings get uncomfortable being bound in the skin, where the physical body feels like a prison one wants to escape. It’s only natural. Shared by all.
    Jerry

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  7. Debra,

    You’ve really struck a nerve with this posting. There’s a great deal to ponder within it, and the nature of reality, while central to our intellectual and psychological foundations, is not a subject that lends itself easily to a blog post. It is a courageous and potent treatment you have shared and I wanted to respond specifically to two of your most important points:

    “Modern communication tells all and every belief system is at risk now of being de-mythologized. Even in looking for something to believe in, we find the only way to sustain our true-believer status comes at the price of excluding other beliefs, even of people who we love and respect as rational beings like ourselves.”

    One of the most glaring deficits in our modern society, with all of its advantages and advancements, is a context within which to assimilate all of the modern day miracles, accompanied as they are by an ever-increasing potential for epic modern day catastrophes and acts of violence. Without a proper context to understand or come to terms with our modern “reality,” all the advantages in the world won’t help us to move forward in any commensurate manner spiritually. Mythology serves this function well when considered alongside of the changes in the temporal realm. Joseph Campbell said it best:

    “One of our problems today is that we are not well acquainted with the literature of the spirit. We’re interested in the news of the day and the problems of the hour. It used to be that the university campus was a kind of hermetically sealed-off area where the news of the day did not impinge upon your attention to the inner life and to the magnificent human heritage we have in our great tradition–Plato, Confucius, the Buddha, Goethe, and others who speak of the eternal values that have to do with the centering of our lives…Myths are the clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.”

    If we aren’t even aware that we HAVE an inner life or don’t know how to access it, how can we possibly hope to center our lives?

    “In pondering this idea of reality, I have wondered why we moderns seem to be so much under its spell. What do we mean when we make reference to reality, declaring something to be real (or not), and how is it that this modern usage came into being? What new shift in our experience does it reflect?”

    Again, Campbell hits the nail on the head:

    “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

    The advancements in science and technology have given many of us the false impression that there is no longer any need for mythology or for considering the spiritual aspects of our existence and experience of reality. Nothing could be further from the truth! We need it now more than ever!

    Sorry to go on for so long…but you really got me with this one….John H.

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    • Hi John,

      Thanks so much for adding your thoughts and bringing Joseph Campbell’s wisdom into the mix.
      Especially this:

      “I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

      That is a very insightful observation and immediately brings to mind the thought that perhaps we feel dead, or rather, dogding death relative to our sense that we’re not quite alive, waiting for life to start (always the observer, rarely the experiencer), relative to our perception that the world around us is dead, or at least, not alive.

      And yes, as you point out:

      “The advancements in science and technology have given many of us the false impression that there is no longer any need for mythology or for considering the spiritual aspects of our existence and experience of reality.”

      Exactly, and perhaps the more we tough it out, denying that need for a myth that we wrap around ourselves like a warm blanket, insisting that we go it alone, without the gods, the invisibles, the lonelier we feel.

      Thanks for going on so long! Love it 🙂
      Debra

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  8. I also often wonder what reality is really… A lot of mainstream ideas are just based on believes. So many people would for example reject the idea of aliens visiting earth. But why is it so easy for them to reject something they have no way of verifying. The same goes for extrasensory experiences, etc. There is a fundamental narrow-mindedness associated with our modern culture, it is a sort of a harmful conditioning. I sometimes think I would have a more riveting conversation with someone born in the 16th century, even a peasant. We have lost so much on the way and I hope we are slowly waking up from this common slumber. Our myth currently is very limiting, I think.
    End of the rant – sorry, Debra.
    Otherwise I enjoyed the post of course!

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    • Thank you Monika. I love your rant 🙂

      I very much agree with you. I too have often thought I could more easily converse with someone in the 16th century who still sensed the world of the invisibles.
      xxx
      Debra

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    • Hi Monika,

      I like your rant 🙂

      I too, have imagined talking to a 16th century person and perhaps fitting in a little better. It saddens me that our culture has become so Dayworld oriented, no room for the invisibles.

      Yes, agreed, our myth(s) are quite limiting which makes our beliefs prone to fundamentalism because we moderns now measure things in terms of how real they are.

      Some of us know better…:)
      xxx
      Debra

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  9. Reminded of ‘The World is Made of Stories’ by David Loy. Something to do with knowing it’s like this… and seeing beyond it. As things are, there’s no conclusion, just more and more examples of the same thing?

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  10. I agree that our access to the world via transportation, television, and communication devices has allowed us to pick and choose our own set of beliefs ( mix and match) and our own version of reality. As physical communities dissolve and virtual ones are built, the sense of unity increases.

    This is such an illuminating article. thank you!

    peace,
    Linda

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  11. In my Life Maps Process approach, which is a personal development ‘rite of passage’ experience I will be presenting in an upcoming book called Life Paths, I use a Parallel Myth modality which allows people to see themselves as heroic protagonists weaving a dramatic, epic Life Story that is parallel to a popular story or myth they identify with. I believe we still value STORY and we replicate the same genres HIllman identified in therapeutic stories: Epic Adventure (Comic or Tragic) and Episodic or Picaresque. Seeing our lives to the Present as Epic or Episodic adventures brings us to a THRESHOLD experience, whereby we recognize what obstacles we have faced and what strengths we have gained. This prepares us to approach and Cross the Threshold in greater awareness, a truly alhemical passage!

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  12. myth is one way to explore self. when others have similar experience it is easier to develop with them a “solution” for living. Life need not be made to focus on the problem and a solution for one problem and another when there is a way of living that may emerge from lessons that are designed for us to see a path of living. There always will be forks – take one. There always will be curves and hills – life isn’t the same from time to time usually. It requires lots of examples by others for us to gain skill and confidence.
    Thanks for this thoughtful posting.
    ~ Eric

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  13. Debra:

    Thank you for another wonderful and thought-provoking post.

    “Maybe all that is left is to see is that there will never be an escape from myth. We are myth makers, and whether we call it reality, fantasy, science or religion, we are bound and contained, limited ultimately by our sense of who we are. The more we try to and need to define ourselves, the more caught we’ll be. If we are not who we think we are, then who are we?”

    I believe one of the deficiencies of modern Western culture is that we have become too individualized and have lost touch with the collective myth and symbols, whether it be fantasy, religious mystery, etc. In my own life, I have chased the “American Dream”. As I enter my second half of life, I am striving to learn the collective myths, symbols and dreams of humanity (some of my personal dreams are overly bizarre, which says a lot about me :-).

    Peace,
    W. Ockham

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    • I agree William. There is a hunger that many of us live with, but also a huge opportunity for transformation because we have access to so much.

      My dreams can be pretty bizarre too 🙂
      Peace,
      Debra

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